Work of underpaid Polish construction workers suspended
A Finnish construction company has called a halt to work carried out by a Polish subcontractor at the building site of the Helsinki Music Centre, after articles in the press stated that Polish construction workers had been paid less than €2 an hour at the site. The representative trade union in the construction sector had already protested against the Polish building company Ekomel operating as a subcontractor at Finnish building sites.
The Finnish company Niska & Nyyssönen Oy has called a halt to construction work carried out by the Polish subcontractor Ekomel at the Helsinki Music Centre building site. This happened after news articles reported that Polish construction workers at the site had been paid less than €2 an hour. The government-owned enterprise responsible for managing and letting the property assets of the Finnish state, Senate Properties, which oversees the building project of the Music Centre, stated that Niska & Nyyssönen had not cleared the subcontractor with Senate Properties, contrary to the terms of the contract.
Senate Properties indicated that it had asked for clarification from the main building contractor, Niska & Nyssönen, immediately after the reports of underpaid Polish construction workers were made public. According to the articles in the media, the Polish construction workers were employees of the Polish construction company Ekomel, which acted as a subcontractor to Niska & Nyssönen at the Helsinki Music Centre building site. The main contractor reported that the wage problems came as a surprise, since it had been working with the Polish company for three years. Senate Properties, on the other hand, considers that Niska & Nyssönen had violated its contractual agreements by not asking Senate Properties for the approval of the subcontracting company Ekomel.
According to the sectoral collective agreement, the minimum hourly wage for a Finnish construction worker is €11. Niska & Nyyssönen has now asked for clarification of the wages paid to individual construction workers by Ekomel.
Blockade of Polish subcontractor
The Chair of the Finnish Construction Workers’ Union (Rakennusliitto), Matti Harjuniemi, stated that the trade union had already previously obstructed the presence of the Polish building company Ekomel at Finnish construction sites. According to Mr Harjuniemi, the trade union has evidence regarding the rate of wages paid by Ekomel. He further emphasised: ‘It appears that a large part of Finnish building contractors operate in a quite impudent manner, heedless of the fact that the trade union has noticed that the subcontractor is operating in contravention of the sectoral collective agreement.’
Monitoring pay and working conditions
In February 2006, the Finnish social partners and the then Ministry of Labour, which has been merged into the new Ministry of Employment and the Economy (Työ- ja Elinkeinoministeriö, TEM), agreed to lift the restrictions on the free movement of workers from the new EU Member States that joined the EU in 2004 as of 1 May 2006. They also decided that migrant workers will be subject to compulsory registration and that their pay and working conditions will be closely monitored. The trade unions had demanded that the lifting of the restrictions should be conditional on employers assuming responsibility for the pay and working conditions provided by their foreign subcontractors (FI0602206F).
New law clarifying contractual responsibilities
Since the beginning of 2007, a new law concerning the responsibility of contractors and the use of hired work and external labour has been in force. The law aims to create better preconditions for subscriber enterprises to ensure that their subcontractors are adhering to collective agreements and employer statutory obligations. Additional resources, in the form of 12 new posts in industrial safety districts, to monitor adherence to employment terms were ensured in the areas of subcontracting and hired work. The law also improved the possibilities of shop stewards to access information related to the use of external labour (FI0701029I).
Pertti Jokivuori, Statistics Finland